The following tips have been compiled through a lot of experience. Please read through these carefully to help in your ELP preparations and onsite program.
- Children eat less than a full serving. Plan 2-3 ounces of meat per person.
- Plan quantities carefully. Too much food is hard to keep organized and leftovers are a nuisance — too little can be a problem, too. Wash all your produce at home before packing if the weather is cold. It is painful to constantly have your hands immersed in freezing water and it is wonderful to have things ready for cooking or snacking. Pack and unpack like items together (staples, produce, snacks, breads) so that way things won’t get lost or forgotten.
- Plan one-dish recipes when possible — stews, soups, etc. Too many dishes are hard to prep and even harder to keep track of when cooking for a large group. Simplify the recipes — it is not usually necessary to include exact measurements or quantities if you purchase ingredients in the correct proportions. Type out your recipes in large font and put them in sheet protectors so that the students (employees) can refer to them.
- “Authentic” foods are really appealing. It is good to have choices at each meal. The employees will be quite willing to try everything when they don’t feel they have to. Don’t forget dietary restrictions like vegetarians and allergies (nuts, etc.)
- It helps to set up a self-service beverage area and a snack/grazing area. Keep these areas away from your prep and working areas. A little planning and organization will help the employees be self-sufficient, an important Fort Ross lesson. It will also keep you sane and prevent the constant chorus of “Where is X?” This is critical when weather is stormy, because your work area is constantly filled with employees visiting or coming inside to warm up.
- Having three cook officers is really helpful. The Head Cook can meet with the employees to make menu decisions develop recipes, shop, oversee and give orders. The second cook officer should be available to organize the employees, chat with them, make sure they understand their chores, organize breaks, crafts and churning. The third cook can tend to fire and carry pots etc. Of course, other divisions of labor can work equally well, but have a plan and try to have three parents in this role.
- Encourage the employees to be resourceful and self-sufficient. Resist the urge to do things for them. Give clear, concise verbal instructions, and then allow them to find solutions. This is respectful and they will appreciate it. You will see that they are usually quite adept at asking for help! This approach will also keep you from feeling stressed from being constantly called upon. If you discover they haven’t followed through, follow up with suggestions for how they might proceed. If you expect a lot of them, they will surprise you with their capability and enthusiasm and you will be overflowing with genuine praise for them. What a happy circumstance!
- A cook’s meeting to decide on menus will really help to galvanize everyone to the task at hand. Give them choices among “authentic” dishes, and you will not end up with demands for hamburgers! A baking day is also fun if you can fit it in. If not, enlist parents to make Russian tea cakes and jam filled cookies.
- A starchy Russian diet is actually great for employees! Include lots of “carbs” in the menu and even the fussiest eater will not go hungry.
- Cooking over a wood fire is hard work. If you need a hot flame, use a grate that is not too high above the fire. Start boiling water early and make sure that the fire is stoked in cold weather! Don’t be fancy. It’s easy to braise and stew, so plan accordingly. Don’t be afraid to adapt to circumstances and innovate — employees love this — as long as you know what you are doing with the main course. Let the employees do all the prep because they are usually not able to withstand too much open fire cooking — smoke burns their eyes (yours too!) and if it’s cold and rainy you will be struggling to convince them to stay warm and dry. They can certainly stir pots, draw water, fetch ingredients, run messages between the outdoor fire and the Officers’ Barracks, gather kindling (including paper), feed the fire and keep tabs on the status of water, hot water in the spider pot, and dishwashing tubs. Work hard to engage the employees in the activity at hand and you will be amazed at the camaraderie and affection that grows among you. Remember, they can do it. Most of all have fun; they will never forget their Fort Ross experience.
- Breakfast – Please create a breakfast menu from the menu items. You can leave on the table some snacks for grazing. Bagels and cream cheese work well for morning snack. Pancakes or blinis are not a good idea. They can drip and make a mess on the fireplace stones and are hard to cook on an open fire.
- Lunch – Plan a lunch that requires little or no prep, no dishes, and almost no cleanup, because by this time you are packed up, almost ready to depart and you want to savor the remaining time. Lay out the food as a buffet. At each meal officers can serve to expedite the line. Plan for this and enlist help. Always say yes when someone offers help! They’ll feel good and your job will be much easier.